Men’s Tennis: Third-Set Magic Falls Short Against Penn State, Cats End Season on Seven-Game Losing S

Jonah L. Rosenblum

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

In between the doubles and singles points at Combe Tennis Center on Sunday, coach Arvid Swan took the microphone to briefly thank all those who supported his team this season. His speech progressed smoothly, until he began speaking about senior captain Alex Sanborn. That’s when his voice broke.

“He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been coached,” Swan said after the match. “He’s the most unselfish kid I’ve ever been around, and he’s a winner. It’s going to be tough not to have him. He’s an extension of the coaching staff and just a tremendous person. It was emotional for me because I have this close relationship with him.”

Despite Sanborn’s win over Penn State’s Guillaume St-Maurice, Northwestern was unable to snap its losing streak. The No. 57 Wildcats lost their seventh consecutive match Sunday, falling 4-3 to the No. 75 Nittany Lions. Two days earlier NU lost to No. 4 Ohio State 6-1.”It’s kind of a snowball effect,” Sanborn said. “We lose a couple matches in conference, get down a little bit, and then it’s hard to rebound. We just try to stay positive the whole time. It’s been tough. It’s been a tough season.”

In his final home match, Sanborn came back from a set down to defeat St-Maurice 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

“It was my last match,” Sanborn said. “I just wanted to go out there, have fun, and play how I was capable of playing. No pressure. Just go out there and hit the ball.”

Sanborn’s comeback effort was a fitting end to his career at NU.

“It epitomizes what he does well,” Swan said. “He fights and wins.”

After falling behind 3-0 against Penn State, Sanborn’s victory pulled the Cats within one.But No. 91 Josh Graves fell in the third set against No. 108 Eddie Bourchier to give Penn State the victory. Freshman Sidarth Balaji won the last match, his second straight, to make the final score 4-3.

Friday Balaji celebrated his birthday in style, defeating No. 103 Dino Marcan in straight sets.

“I went into the match thinking I have nothing to lose,” Balaji said. “I just have to stay positive throughout the match, play my game, be relaxed, and not get down on myself.” Balaji’s win was the only victory the Cats tallied on the day, as the Buckeyes took all three doubles matches and all five other singles contests.

The match started outside at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center, but rain combined with cold weather created rough conditions, and following the completion of doubles play the match was moved indoors to Combe Tennis Center.

The change in venues did not lead to a change in results. NU’s singles players competed fairly well at the top of the lineup, as Balaji won his match at No. 2 singles while at the top spot Graves led No. 10 Chase Buchanan 7-4 in a third-set tiebreaker before dropping the final six points of the match.

As good as the top of the lineup was, the bottom of the lineup was unable to compete with Ohio State. The Cats No. 3 through No. 6 players all lost in straight sets.

NU got a better performance from the bottom of the lineup against Penn State, including freshman Chris Jackman’s first collegiate win in his second match from the No. 6 spot.

“Chris has worked really hard in practice all year,” Swan said. “His game has picked up particularly towards the end of the season. His concentration is probably better than it was earlier in the year. He’s making better decisions with the ball, in terms of when to stay in when to stay back. He earned a chance to play, and did a good job today to get the win.”

The Cats have now lost 11 of their last 13 matches, and with the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, Swan said NU is looking to put together a complete match.

“We’ve been up and down in spots,” Swan said. “We just haven’t put it together where we have six singles teams and three doubles teams playing well at the same time. I’m hopeful we can do that at the Big Ten Tournament. If we do, we’re pretty good. Obviously, we haven’t done that nearly enough the last 13 matches.”

One area the Cats are looking to improve is doubles. After losing the doubles point in both contests this weekend, the Cats have now dropped seven of ten in conference play.

“A big part of our losing close matches has been losing the doubles point,” Sanborn said.

“(Sunday) we kind of had an opportunity to win the doubles point. If we win the doubles point, it takes a little bit of pressure off the singles matches so we can play a little more freely. I mean just go out and take it to the teams we’re playing. Be aggressive, be consistent, try and do things we’re good at.”